The birth and death of a baby panda in Japan has jumped from being a media circus to a minor diplomatic crisis after Ishihara began tying them to the Senkaku Islands and Chinese began insisting the Japanese must have killed it to get back at them.
Japan’s media lavished coverage on the birth of an infant male panda to Ueno Zoo’s Shinshin, prompting what would turn out to be one of the most short-lived panda booms in Japanese history.
Its birth caught the eye of politicians as well as the press – none other than Tokyo’s dear leader Shintaro Ishihara caused a minor spat by failing to buy into the cult of panda adulation, saying “I’m not interested in that stuff at all. We’ll probably just have to return it to China in 2 years anyway.”
He also attempted to further bait China by saying “they should call it Sensen or Kakukaku,” referring to the disputed islands he is buying, and after its birth quipped that “call it Senkaku and then they can be happy when we return it.”
China’s foreign ministry was not amused and shot back that “whatever Japan chooses to call the panda it remains Chinese property, just like those islands.”
However, Shinshin soon abandoned her infant and took to munching bamboo, leaving zoo staff with an orphan panda which they attempted to nurture in an incubator.
Most mainstream media was at pains to avoid presenting the mother’s defective maternal instincts as anything less than exemplary panda parenting, instead reporting the zoo’s explanation that she was stressed and that they would try reintroducing the baby panda to her later.
However, it succumbed to “pneumonia” soon afterwards anyway – not a huge surprise, as as many as 70% of infant pandas expire within a week of their birth.
The infant panda’s death was announced tearfully by the zoo’s boss, and reported as national news throughout Japan.
Even amongst Japanese, there has been some disquiet about how the panda was reared – it emerged that whilst in an incubator the creature was not monitored continuously, although the instructions of the panda’s Chinese minders (all such pandas are only loaned out by the Chinese government as diplomatic pawns, for exorbitant fees and with the proviso that their offspring remain Chinese state property) were apparently followed.
Others have wondered what the point of the whole exercise is if they are obliged to return the baby pandas they breed to China after 2 years anyway.
Amongst Chinese however, the panda’s death was immediately the subject of conspiracy theories alleging Japan had deliberately killed it, with 80% of respondents to a poll accompanying one major news story expressing fury at its death.
Suspicion centred on its death somehow being connected to Ishihara’s remarks – “Those wretched little Japs killed it…” ["Japs" in this case substituting for the slur "小日本"], “Japan’s dirty tricks extend even to our national treasures. This is an outrage!” and of course “Kill those dirty little Japs!”